Amazon Unlimited Music strikes the right chord

I like my music.

In fact, I am about as much of a music nut as I am about the latest tech fads. Maybe even more — as crazy as that is to believe.

On a typical summer night, you might find me outback on my deck. There, I’ll have a fresh Maduro cigar in one hand and two fingers worth of Laphroaig in the other, all while listening to some of my favorites: Diana Krall, Van Morrison or Dougie McLean. That’s the good life.

This is why the release of Apple Music was perfect for a guy like me. I had every song imaginable right in the palm of my hand (if I happened to be using my iPhone) or computer.

Amazon Unlimited Music
Amazon Unlimited Music gives more power to Echo.

This all proved to be handy as my Apple Music account was connected via bluetooth — not my favorite method of listening to music, mind you — to my Amazon Echo. Sure, this was the ultimate clash of my favorite brands, but it worked well enough. I could ask Alexa, the Amazon Echo personal assistant, to turn down the volume if need be, but less easily had to change the songs from the connected Apple device. I’ll add too that, for the longest time, I wished Amazon had a catalog of music as in depth as Apple’s, not just the decent yet limited Prime selection. That way I could simply ask Alexa to play music with out the middle man (sorry, Apple).

Last week, my wish was finally granted.

Amazon Unlimited Music makes things easier.

With Amazon Music Unlimited, I can immediately snag a song and Amazon can take a piece of market share.

Here’s how.

The Echo is one of Amazon’s biggest successes. Just like me, all three million Echo owners and users had found a makeshift way to stream music. Yet, with Amazon Music Unlimited, there is an easier way. For a really cheap price, you can tell Alexa to begin your subscription and follow that command up by asking the speaker to play any song you could ever imagine. No phone or computer necessary.

Needless to say, I have already subscribed, and bought an Echo Dot for our bedroom now too. And soon enough, I’ll buy another for my deck.

Could life get sweeter than that?

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard disaster

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardThe Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall because of the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has me thinking. What if any long term effect could this Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard have on the BRAND of Samsung?

Sure an exploding or smoldering smart phone is not a product feature in even the most optimistic consumer’s mind. But could this product recall seriously and permanently damage this mega-brand consumer products company?

In a word. Maybe.

Brands have meaning to consumers and great brands have great emotional meaning to customers. They associate with that brand meaning and, because that association should be about the customer and not the product, it becomes personal.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardNike has a premier consumer product position, not because it makes the best athletic shoes, but because Nike means the wearer feels like a winner. It’s the Nike promise that you should just do it. Forget the distractions. Keep focused because YOU are a winner for choosing Nike (read about the NIKE brand here). That is the power of BRAND.

I am trying to think about Samsung. What does the brand MEAN? Does the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard in any way damage that association? I think it does and here is why.

Samsung is the largest electronics company in South Korea. It makes quality products and has infiltrated almost every category of consumer electronics. But it has a very poorly defined brand promise.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardLacking that emotional connection, it has allowed the consumer to position it as a value brand. That means Samsung is lower priced than the competition but are generally well made and dependable.

It might not be fair to dis Samsung as lacking in innovation but I think the market does not view it as being an innovator in any way. It is a fast follower, often copying the market leader’s products with a slightly cheaper (value) positioning.

This model has allowed them to steal the thunder from many storied brands. Take Son (Read about the Sony brands here) for instance. Its Trinitron TV brand reinvented the category.

Sony even led the way in flat screen innovation. But Samsung copied those products and dared to make side by side comparisons of product features — all with a value twist. The result? Growth in market share.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has reshaped the smart phone pecking order

Same is true with the smart phone. Everyone knows the category was invented by Apple. Even the courts backed up that statement. Samsung entered the category with a cheaper reproduction and an nearly all-open sourced operating system. Side-by-side comparisons with the iPhone showed similar capabilities at about 50% of the cost.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardBut the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard has undone much of that value cache. The great enemy of value brands is an underlying and almost universal human belief that, at the end of the day, you ALWAYS get what you pay for.

Customers who invest their emotional soul to value brands sit around waiting for the shoe to drop and hoping it does not. Want proof? Ask Value Jet.(Read about the fire that burned up an airline here: ValueJet). A failure by a low cost provider can be fatal to the brand.

Galaxy Note 7 fire hazardI worry that all the problems and bad press over the Galaxy Note 7 fire hazard feels like the shoe has dropped. (You are reminded of it every time you fly on a US passenger airline because they warn you before boarding that, having a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 turned on or charging, is forbidden because of the recall.)

To survive, Samsung might have to double down on its value proposition and make the risk worth the reward by gutting its profit margins.

Or it could call us and we could help them create a REAL brand that incorporates brand repair with a new juggernaut of meaning. Samsung won’t call however. It thinks brand is a logo and name. But there is no need to change either. There is a need to change the meaning.

Google products are interesting but not different

Let me be the first to admit that Google’s new line of technology looks pretty sweet. My interest is piqued when new devices arrive, regardless if I trust the company’s motivations or generally suffer from a fickle relationship with the outfit.

The new products from Google just mimic everyone else.

In case you missed it, Google’s “Made by Google” site is alive and well. Yesterday, the business introduced its response to the iPhone with Pixel, a virtual reality headset called the Daydream View, an updated version of its Chromecast streaming device, and a voice activated speaker called Google Home (think Amazon’s Echo). All of the aforementioned products are solely produced by the company, a change from past practices.

Google really had me with the debut of its new gadgets — possibly because they looked a lot like Apple products. Yet, unfortunately, I speedily lost when it chose to poke fun at Apple, the very company it is mimicking. That doesn’t get anyone to switch and it’s wasted energy.

The only way to steal market share is to be truly different and better than the competition, especially the market leader. A jibe is okay, but it looks empty and petty when your products are no different.

Are the products from Google any different than anyone else?

Here’s exactly what I mean. Google said, “3.5mm headphone jack satisfyingly not new,” which was followed by a cough in jest. That jest was a slight at Apple for not including a headphone jack on the iPhone 7.

What Google missed by that jab was that Apple was thinking differently, which falls in line with its brand. Google has its own powerful brand, but it plays into Apple’s hands when its products do not think different. That means Apple is positioned against them.

While you must position yourself against the market leader to steal share, it’s difficult to do when your own products mimic the market leaders, no matter the industry.

Remembering the great Steve Jobs

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Steve Jobs’ death. If you are like me, it is amazing that it has been that long. And yet it feels like a long winding and dark road since I last saw him live at an Apple event.

Steve Jobs
The late, great Steve Jobs

This date is a seminal moment in the modern world of technologies and innovation. Steve heralded in the development of most of the gadgets and appliances on which we all rely. My MacBook is my rock. Without Steve Jobs and his insistence on simplicity, the OSX operating system would be a pipe dream. Even Windows would not be what it is without the relentless pressure of this innovator.

Certainly his vision for a computer for the rest of us, at a time when they were only for nerds and programmers, has come to fruition.

My iPhone has become the staple of my connectivity. We are no longer dependent on the clumsy Blackberry or complicated Palm Pilot to manage our calendar, phone and email, thanks to Steve and the wizards at Apple. I no longer own an iPod because all of my music resides nicely on one device. I even migrated to Bluetooth headphones last year.

We use the products that Steve Jobs created every day.

I am writing this blog while sitting in the United Club at O’Hare Airport. I am writing it on an iPad Pro. Meanwhile, my granddaughter is home watching a Pixar movie and I will FaceTime her from my hotel tonight.

It is easy to lament Apple’s lack of innovations since Steve Jobs left us. It is, after all, an incredibly high bar. But I must tell you my new iPhone and new iPad are head and shoulders above the first generations. My new Mac is smaller, faster and the battery lasts longer.

So I want to publicly thank Steve Jobs on this moment of reflection for a lifetime achievement that makes me feel incredibly humble in its wake. It’s much like looking at The Beatles and realizing you would have been immensely pleased to have penned even one of their tunes.

I still love Apple. I even like Tim Cook, who has tamed the beast and transformed it into a formidable business model.

I want to cheer again for blinding innovation and I am hopeful at every Apple event that the notoriously secretive company of geniuses is about to transform my life. Again.

The Apple AirPods won’t succeed

Apple AirPods are the price Apple pays for innovation.

Apple AirPods
The New Apple AirPods

The problem is that I don’t want to pay that $159 price for the new Apple AirPods.

I am a died in the wool Apple guy, as you know. I write this blog on my MacBook Air, have an iPhone 6+, two iPads (including the iPad Pro), an iPod in my car and an Apple TV connected to all the TVs in my home. Even at Stealing Share, we are Apple folks with an Apple server and Airport Wireless.

But I do have a simple complaint. Apple focuses on great design. But often, that design is more about how things look as opposed to how they work.

Apple Airpods
The Old Bluetooth Earpiece

I remember when I bough my first iPhone nine years ago and also paid for the Bluetooth headphone (not anything like the Apple AirPods). It was very cool looking and was tiny compared to competitive products. But syncing it to the phone and keeping it charged turned out to be a nightmare. I have never bought another Bluetooth product from Apple.

I won’t buy the new Apple AirPods either. Once again, they look very cool and are tiny compared to the competitor’s products. But they suffer from the same flaw as that earpiece I bought almost a decade ago. They simply won’t stayed charged long enough for me to use them.

Bluetooth headphones are common today

I travel a great deal and always take Bluetooth headphones with me. They are large, bulky and cumbersome but… they are noise cancelling and seem to last for days. Apple claims its new Apple AirPods will last for four hours between charges. That means they won’t even last a single cross country flight. They are worthless to me.

Apple AirPods
Apple packages everything with style

Apple AirPods look great

Great design says that form follows function and Apple often forgets this. I want them to be tiny, cool and simple. But I demand that they function in a way that matters to me. These have pushed the limit on smallness and Bluetooth compatibility but the technological limitations of having a powerful enough battery in such a small design is not there yet. So I’m not there yet either.

Apple eliminating the earphone jack on the new iPhone seems as overdue to me as when the original iMac eliminated the floppy disk drive and the MacBook eliminated the CD drive. I don’t need to connect a wire to my phone. But I NEED the device I use for sound and talking to last me a full day. Apple needs to be as concerned about how well something works as much as it is obsessed with how it looks.

So the Apple AirPods won’t find their way into my briefcase. Its too bad really. I would prefer to buy more Apple products but sometimes they leave me in the cold.